Challenges and Growth in Trinidad

As a supplement to the Global Service Learning course, each student receives a “Culture Smart” book specific to the country where the global service learning projects will take place. The Culture Smart books are a valuable tool for us because they give us insight and information about the cultural norms of the country. However, while reading this book my classmates and I need to keep in mind that the traits of a Trini discussed in this book is a broad description of the country and does not apply to every individual in Trinidad. An easy comparison to make is examining the make up and diversity of the United States. Different regions of the country have cultural characteristics that might not be seen in other parts of the country. It is near impossible to describe the complexity of personalities, cultures, and characteristics of the United States in a book. The same holds true when writing a book about Trinidad. When it comes to Trinidad, some aspects of their culture is similar to ours, but also differs in other ways. Trinidad is very diverse when it comes to the different religions and ethnicities that you will find there, this is one example of a way that the United States and Trinidad are alike. Trinis and Americans are different in the types of sports they like. One of the most popular sports in Trinidad is cricket, which is not a common sport in the United States. Americans enjoy basketball and football more. In addition, the pace of a day in Trinidad is usually slower and unhurried compared to a day here, which will take some time to adjust to. This cultural norm in Trinidad could be a challenge when we are working on our service learning project because the pace of a day that we experience everyday is much faster. Therefore, we will want to get things done efficiently, but also the right way, because of the fast pace of the day we are accustomed to. However, this will not be the case once we get to Trinidad, so my peers and I will have to be patient when working in a more relaxed and laid back environment. Another challenge that my classmates and I had to work around even before arriving in Trinidad is the lack of technology. One part of this project that we have been focusing on this semester is a discussion with the DORCAS Women’s Group about customer service and networking. When we first started brainstorming ideas of how we could create a discussion on customer service and networking, our instinct was to create a powerpoint as a way to communicate these ideas to the DORCAS Women’s Group. However, we soon realized that we would not have access to the internet or computers while we were in Trinidad, so my classmates and I were forced to pivot. (Pivot is common term we use in the Global Service Learning class, it is another term for adapt.) As a result, we were required to choose a different method of communication, something that was different from how we usually share ideas or do presentations for class, powerpoints. In addition, we also had to change the way we were going to talk with the DORCAS Women’s Group about networking and customer service to adapt to their learning style. This is another reason why the presentation style that we are most comfortable with will not work in this situation. Standing in front of the DORCAS Women’s Group and doing a presentation on these two topics is not the best way that they learn. As a result, we made the discussion more interactive, so the members in this women’s organization can participate and hopefully get more out of the experience. A final difference in cultures that will make this project difficult is the communication. This will go both ways. When interacting and building relationships with the DORCAS Women’s Group, there may be times where we do not understand each other because of the different ways we communicate. In both countries, the main language is English, but it might be tough to understand each other because of the accents of the different groups. In addition to the accents, we might use American terminology that Trinis will not understand. The same applies to the DORCAS Women’s group, at times they might use Trini terminology that we will not understand. As a result of this difference in language, there will be instances where we will have to reframe what we are saying so that the Trinis we interact with understand what we are saying. My peers and I have to be mindful of this so we don’t get frustrated or impatient when there is a misunderstanding.
One thing I want to get out of this service learning trip is improving my intercultural competence. Intercultural competence is one’s ability to effectively communicate with people of different cultures by utilizing cognitive, affective, and behavioral skills. This skill is critical for a student to develop because of increasing globalization and diversity in the workplace. It is also useful to understand the different cultures and backgrounds that people come from. In class, my classmates and I discussed the effects that service learning had on developing one’s intercultural competence. To do this, we analyzed a study done by Nadia De Leon titled, “Developing Intercultural Competence by Participating In Intensive Intercultural Service-Learning.” In this study, De Leon introduces a nonprofit, The $100 Solution, to the reader. This nonprofit started with two students, one traveled to Ireland and the other traveled to Mexico, and the goal of these students was to solve a community problem using one hundred dollars or less. These two students were challenged to not make assumptions about what their respective communities needed, but to figure out what was needed by having conversations with the locals about the priorities in the community. This is a great concept to help a student develop their intercultural competence. I can read all the Culture Smart books I want, but I will never get the true experience of a foreign country and culture unless I immerse myself in the culture. The tasks performed for the nonprofit, The $100 Solution, are very similar to the tasks that my peers and I will be completing in Matelot, Trinidad. We will be able to share the information that we have gathered throughout our time in Pitt Business on networking and customer service. However, what networking and customer service look like in the United States might be vastly different in Trinidad. This means that the students will have to build relationships and have conversations with the DORCAS Women’s Group so that both parties can get the most out of this service learning opportunity. The conversations and bond forming aspects of this project are just like the aspects seen in The $100 Solution. To test the effects of service learning on intercultural competence, researchers analyzed students cultural intelligence knowledge scores before and after the study to see if there was an increase or decrease. The study consisted of students enrolled in a course where some had to complete The $100 Solution project and other students were not required to. As a result, the researchers found that the students who participated in the service learning program significantly increased their intercultural competence knowledge scores by the end of the course. This is one thing that I hope to get out of this global service learning experience. In addition to improving my intercultural competence, a personal goal I have is to push myself out of my comfort zone.  This global service learning program will push me out of my comfort zone because conducting business in the United States is one thing. I have lived here my whole life and although I might not understand the cultures in different regions within the country, I still am comfortable enough to know how to carry myself and interact with the people around me. This is not the case in Trinidad. Interacting with Americans verses Trinis will be very different and I will have to be mindful of this when I’m in Trinidad. During one of our classes this semester, we discussed that if you don’t experience a culture shock, then you are not pushing yourself enough to be immersed in the unfamiliar culture. Not only will it be uncomfortable to be outside my comfort zone, on multiple occasions during this program I will be forced to pivot. When we arrive in Trinidad later this week, a lot of the things that my peers and I had planned might go wrong and it is up to us to adapt. It is difficult to become a master and develop the perfect formula for pivoting. The reason for this is each situation that I will encounter in my academic and work career will be different from the last. Therefore, whatever formula or method I used to address one situation, might not work for another situation. Despite this, I can develop the ability to think on my feet and make decisions on the spot. This skill is valuable in school and in life in general because things will come up in situations that you did not originally plan for and it is up to you to make a decision. Participating in this service learning program in Trinidad will be the perfect situation to test my ability to pivot. Finally, I want to develop my communication skills during this experience. Earlier I mentioned that there is a chance of miscommunication between us and the Trinis we interact with thanks to the difference in terminology and accents. Although this will be a difficult aspect of the trip, I see it as a perfect opportunity to develop my communication skills. I will have to explain, and maybe re-explain, things to the DORCAS Women’s Group in a way that they can understand. This practice with effective communication is a transferable skill that I will be able to apply to my academic and work career. Effective communication is crucial in group projects and business settings.